Texas should tackle its uninsured problem

Texas Health Insurance

State social services czar Tom Suehs says the Legislature should work on reducing Texas’ nation-leading share of its people lacking texas health insurance, no matter what the federal courts decide about the federal health care overhaul.

Testifying at a Senate Nominations Committee hearing, where he was unanimously endorsed to serve a full two-year term, Suehs said policymakers should look at possibly establishing a state health insurance exchange for small employers and at “what’s best for Texas,” notwithstanding a huge legal fight over the federal law.

“What we should be debating is how we implement coverage in this state, regardless of the federal changes,” said Suehs (seated in middle of 3 diners in agency photo above, after serving lunch to state eligibility workers in San Antonio last summer). “We have 6.5 million uninsured individuals in this state. … People in this state get health care [but] it’s not always provided in the most economical fashion,” he added, referring to indigent care in hospital emergency rooms.

On other issues, Suehs discussed Medicaid and possible closure of “state schools” for the mentally disabled.

Suehs said:

He met with U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s staff over the Christmas holidays to promote some fixes to Medicaid, the nation’s main health insurance program for the poor. Responding to Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, Suehs said he agrees that the state-federal program’s costs are unsustainable and a formula for distributing federal money discriminates against high-poverty, high-uninsured states such as Texas. However, he said the state draws only about 7 percent of federal Medicaid money, when it puts in more than 8 percent of all federal taxes, in part because it’s tightfisted.”Texas has always been conservative in our eligibility coverage [and] what we pay our providers,” Suehs said.

Despite a clamor by many in the disability rights community for Texas to close state supported living centers, formerly known as state schools, Suehs said improvements ordered last session haven’t been given enough time to be carried out. “Making rash decisions on the state supported living centers this session may not be the right decision,” he said. Asked by Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, whether GOP leaders’ initial budgets are rash in ordering officials to close 2 of the institutions, Suehs nodded his assent, adding: “Until we’ve given bills passed last session time to mature, which we have not.”

A rollout of a Web-based software system for signing people up for Medicaid, food stamps and other public benefits has now covered 45 percent of the state. Dallas-Fort Worth will be the last region added late this year, Suehs said.

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